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Election 2008 The World is Watching

Video Dispatch

Albania: U.S. Elections Watched Closely by Distant Allies

Albanian and American flags fly side by side in this small corner of Eastern Europe

BY Alexandra Poolos October 15, 2008

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Alexandra Poolos works for CNN and has also reported stories for The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Public Radio International and The American Prospect magazine. She has covered international stories in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Russia and Central Asia. She is currently based in New York.

Albania, a small country on the outskirts of Eastern Europe, would seem an unlikely place to find a heated discussion about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Still suffering from the aftermath of a half century of extreme isolation, poverty and corruption, Albania struggles to be taken seriously on the international stage.

Yet, conversations about the election are front and center in this predominantly Muslim country.

Why?

"People here love Americans, they love America," Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha told us, calling Albania the "most pro-American country in Europe."

"This is a country where you will see the Albanian and American flags waving side by side with each other the moment you enter into the border crossing. And this is not the government or government units doing it. This is private citizens."

Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha

Albania's Foreign Minister, Lulzim Basha.

This love of America is demonstrated by Albania's commitment of troops to the so-called "coalition of the willing" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total number of soldiers serving right now is just several hundred, but this is notable when compared to the lack of support from other countries across Europe. So far, close to 1,400 Albanians have served since the beginning of both wars. Only three soldiers have been wounded and none killed.

Another instance of Albania's support for the U.S. was the decision to accept a handful of former Guantanamo detainees as refugees. Five Chinese Muslims, an Egyptian, an Algerian and an Uzbekh had been cleared of wrong-doing, but they could not be sent back to their home countries because of the likelihood they would be tortured or killed. Albania was the only country to offer assistance after almost 160 other countries rejected U.S. pleas.

Basha explained that Albania's commitment to a strong relationship with the U.S. goes back to 1918 when President Wilson famously stood against the partition of Albania. U.S. support for Albania continued during its long isolation under Communism. Most recently, Albanians were grateful for the U.S.-lead NATO intervention in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were being attacked by former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. These days, Albanians have another good reason for supporting the U.S.-- inclusion in NATO, a path the U.S. has vocally championed.

Albanian woman

The mother of Arben Ardiaj, an Albanian soldier on his third deployment in Iraq.

But on a practical level, attempts to curry favor with the U.S. is affecting some Albanians more than others. Take Arben Ardiaj, a soldier on his third deployment in Iraq. Ardiaj is stationed in Mosul with 120 other Albanian soldiers. He has left a wife, two children, parents and siblings back in Albania. His brother says it is an "honor" for the Albanian Army to serve alongside American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is also a real economic incentive for Albanians like Ardiaj. Soldiers typically make close to $3,000 per month when they serve in Iraq, five times higher than their regular army salary and a sum 10 times the average income in the country.

With November's U.S. election approaching, Ardiaj's mother told us what she would say if she could speak directly to the next American president. "I would tell him to stop the war in Iraq. We want peace."

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benjamin rubloff - berlin, germany
I am glad to see that Frontline is exploring new global perspectives on the war in iraq. The report is succinct and raises some interesting questions about American allies that seem to still be around from the clinton era. Thanks for contributing to some real coverage from the Balkans.

Vonnie Quinn - New York, NY
Fabulous piece... completely off-the-radar here in the U.S. Arben's wife and mother experiencing the same loss as so many thousands here. And yet their peripheral circumstances are so different. Very eye-opening piece. Thank you!

New York, NY
Good reporting here. Gives a snapshopt on the pulse of daily life in Albania and how its relationship with the US effects the lives of families, soldiers, and their economy. Intriguing.

Simba Saxe - Seattle, WA
Well that was a great piece. The idea of a Muslim country supporting the US--because we did the right thingand defended them against extermination--has received far too little attention, I think.

 

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